Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Clapping In Worship...and Otherwise


Following my shared message with JJ Sunday, it got me to thinking that it was time to revisit a subject of certain importance in relationship to worship. Our point/counterpoint message was shared in order to help us to consider and realize the big picture concerning worship and not to get caught up in meaningless arguments. A short excerpt from what JJ shared -- "after the last song of (a) service -- after we clapped during it -- our preacher got up and literally yelled at us, three teenagers, and told us that it was Biblically wrong. He was red faced, eyes bulged, sweating and literally making everyone uncomfortable. But this is how I was taught I was "doing something wrong." Another not-so-fine example of a person (preacher) taking down a mosquito with a bazooka...and completely missing the point...missing the big picture.

Unfortunately, this is not a unique experience, as I have another church leader friend who shared with me awhile back concerning an experience where people walked out of a baptism because some people applauded the baptism. The irony is that those who make such a big deal about things like clapping can't figure out why so many (of their) young people, when they get to be an age of accountability, leave the fellowship for other ones...or leave Christianity all together.

There is a similar message following... A message from Edward Fudge's gracE-mail and the wise answer he shares -- A concerned sister writes: "A teenager led a song at our church recently, and the teens and a few adults clapped during the chorus. Three families walked out in disapproval. My son does not understand why people cannot express themselves this way without others being offended."

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The Bible certainly talks about clapping the hands in worship. David exhorts: "Clap your hands, all peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy" (Psalm 47:1). The New Testament church used the Psalms in worship, including this one (1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Several of us North American Christians have only recently learned to clap, although many Christians around the world have always done so when appropriate. In daily life, we typically clap to express joy and celebration, or we applaud to show someone honor. It would be sad indeed to think that anyone who knows the Lord can think of nothing to celebrate, and God is certainly worthy of all our honor. There is a time for quiet meditation and a time for joyful exhuberance.

It is unfortunate that people so easily confuse their personal preferences with God's desires. The Bible calls for a great diversity of expression and bodily postures in worship. We all would do well to remember that and not to think that our own familiar forms are the only ones permitted. Genuine worship which is spontaneous and high volume reaches God's ears in heaven, as do the prayers of those who kneel to pray and sincerely read their prayers from a book. According to the New Testament, God is far more interested in the devotion of the heart that expresses worship than he is in the externals by which that worship is expressed (John 4:19-24).

I am happy that teenagers want to attend worship meetings in the first place, and that they are excited about taking part. Wise church leaders will seek to encourage appropriate forms which constructively provide for the needs of all their members. Mature members will learn to focus on God regardless of worship style, and not limit their attention to their own personal comfort and satisfaction. Worship is about God -- not about us. Unless we keep that truth in mind, our own songs and prayers just might be bouncing back off the ceiling.

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